My food evolution: Atoning for my culinary sins and the 11 Commandments I will now follow

My first proper foray into journalism was, at age 14, writing a restaurant review column titled “Morse’s Morsels” for Oceanside High School’s Sider Press. I have continued to write about food and restaurants, both professionally and for fun. However, I have never publicly discussed my own eating habits, concerns, and woes. And there are many.(I’m not pulling a Frank Bruni here, I promise. Just keep reading!)

When I read Fast Food Nation as a teenager, I was disgusted by the atrocities perpetrated by American fast food companies against their employees (many of them undocumented immigrants) who risked life and limb to bring Chicken McNuggets to the masses. Yet I was not moved to take action. My 17-year-old self went, along with my friends, to McDonalds, Burger King, or Wendy’s five days per week to raid the dollar menus. And at this hormonally and metabolically gifted age, we hardly gained a goddamn pound (despite consuming chicken feces and all the other junk that’s inside any standard fast food sandwich).

I had the knowledge, yet I remained ignorant.

In college, not much changed. Food trucks and ethnic cuisines in West Philadelphia,  replaced the fast food of old, but even reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” didn’t do a thing to majorly shake up my habits. I naively considered the lettuce and tomatoes on top of my Greek Lady chicken salad hoagies to be sufficient vegetable intake. (None of this was helped by the fact that I lived in places with some really nasty kitchens featuring roaches, mice, etc. I was convinced that I’d rather spend the money eating out then dying of some foodborne illness.)

(Sidenote: For the only math class I took at Penn, I wrote a paper explaining why I would  continue to eat at Taco Bell despite an outbreak of salmonella and nationwide produce recalls, because statistically, there were greater odds of many more obscure things happening to me than being effected by diseased lettuce.)

Some of my food consumption habits changed when I lived in England after graduating from college. Someone once said that, food-wise, for every mile outside of London it’s like taking a yea back in time: I was based almost two hours outside of London. Needless to say, I was horrified by the low quality of food at restaurants. But British supermarkets are surprisingly quite cheap and offer a solid selection. Therefore, I started cooking for myself by eating eggs every morning while frequently making myself pastas that were heavily laden with vegetables.

Some of my progress was likely erased when I returned to America and started working. I found it hard to cook find time to cook while spending 12+ hours per day commuting and working.

It was only when I returned to Europe again, this time Denmark, that the obscene, and I mean obscene prices of food when dining out in that socialist paradise forced me to eliminate eating out except for very rare special occasions. However, at this moment, I had the time and the motivation for start eating better. (Snagging a girlfriend with a keen interest in healthy eating didn’t hurt. In fact, daily reinforcement focused on healthy living was lifechanging!)

Fast forward two years.

Despite one friend insisting that I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals since it first came out, because after reading it, she promptly and permanently converted to vegetarianism, it was only after I purchased a Kindle in late 2011 that I got around to reading this piece. By early December, after reading the book on bus rides through London, I was shocked and horrified by what I read about meat production, especially in America.

For me, a sore spot has always been the threat of going bald. Despite my hair starting to thin in high school, it has remained largely in tact. (Knock wood!) Though my dad, bald himself, thinks I’m crazy, I attribute my hair retention to the egg yolks (packed with biotin and silica) that I have eaten regularly since age 21. But the more I read about eating animals who themselves were fed all sorts of chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics, the more that it grossed me out to even consider eating them myself.

So on New Years Eve, at a supermarket in Amsterdam, I ate a sample-size piece of salami, and proclaimed that I would never eat meat again.

Three months later, I’ve done a pretty decent job. There was one transcontinental flight where I was unable to obtain a vegetarian meal, and there were certainly a few instances when, after consuming alcohol, that I snuck a bite or two of meat. (I actually felt physically ill after each of these errors, one time even regurgitating.)

But only today, after walking for 100 blocks did I really screw up. My stomach was growling like a lion when a storefront signboard depicting a juicy, succulent barbecued chicken stood before me. I turned to see that Boston Market was running a promotion for a half chicken, two side dishes, and a corn muffin for $7.99.

I don’t know what made me do it. But I walked into that restaurant. And I ordered that chicken. And I felt like I’d just committed a personal felony. I didn’t enjoy one bite of that chicken. But it inspired me to do better.

I don’t want to be a forty-year-old who looks sixty. I want to be a forty-year-old who looks thirty. And I’m not going to get that, or live a long life without needing medical care, if I eat crap. Plus, I want my hair.

So, for the next three months, I am setting 11 Commandments for myself that I am determined to follow:

1.No fried food.

2.No cheese (unless it’s a rare high-end import).

3.No Chinese takeout (because of the low quality oils that it’s cooked in).

4. Carry small bags of mixed nuts with me or similar snacks at all times.

5. Consume no carbohydrates that are not of the whole wheat/whole grain variety.

6. Eat small dinners that have limited carbohydrates.

7. Never drink more than one beer per night. (Switch to red wine.)

8.Do not eat within four hours of going to bed.

9. Consume eggs, yogurt, or something Larabaresque for breakfast.

10. No sweets, except for the occasional dark chocolate bar.

11. Consume no less than six vegetables per day.

A follow-up post with additional details about my self-imposed (and crowdsourced) punishments for violating any of these tenets is coming soon! Also, I downloaded Lose It! — a free diet and weight monitoring iPhone app — to help me keep track of my food intake. I will report back on how this app, which has great reviews, has helped (or hurt) my efforts.

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